Taking a glance at the League Two table at any point this season and it would be have been fair to assume that Newport County were all set for a spell outside of the football league. Having spent the lions share of this season deeply entrenched in the relegation zone and on a bad run that saw pick up only nine points since the turn of the year up until March 9th, Newport looked all but doomed.
That date however proved to be the pivotal point in Newports season when manager Graham Westley was dismissed and caretaker manager Michael Flynn was appointed. Westleys final game was a 4-0 hammering by fellow strugglers Leyton Orient that left the welsh side languishing eleven points from safety. But in Flynn they had someone who would turn things upside down and give hope of survival back to Newports bewildered fans. Nineteen points in ten games has seen Newport climb finally out of the bottom two and places their future firmly back in their own hands. With two games left – Carlisle (Away) and Notts County (Home) and two points separating them and Hartlepool in 23rd, one win and a draw should be enough to secure survival. Flynn and the Newport faithful will take heart in the fact that they have already beaten both Carlisle and Notts County fairly comfortably this season back in November but won’t take that for granted as they aim to snatch all six points. Hartelpools recent capitulation which saw TV personality and Hartelpool president Jeff Sterling call for manager Dave Jones to resign or be sacked will only help Newport going into these final two matches. Jones incidentally did oblige or at least was asked to leave by a rather frustrated Hartlepool board.
The change by ‘Pool is their proverbial last throw of the dice too. They need to win their remaining two matches against fellow strugglers Cheltenham and title chasing Doncaster and also hope that Newport slip up as well. Cheltenham and even Yeovil aren’t mathematically safe but it would take a bizarre set of results to plung the former and an even more bizarre set to relegate the later.
Momentum for safety however is firmly with Newport. Four 1-0 wins out of their last five games is telling of how Flynn and his backroom team have transformed this side. Once the whipping boys of the division, Newport are playing as a unit, a collective team both in defence and attack. Three different scorers in the four wins (Bird, Demetriou, Owen-Evans) show goals from all over the park lessening the demands placed on Samuel and Bird upfront. A return to a more defensive focused 5-3-2 formation over the sometimes over experimental formation tinkering under Westley has resulted in a better understanding from front to back. Finally the balance of the side appears to be back with a good blend of youthful exhuberance mixed in with a few “old heads” that can put their foot on the ball and slow down the game if it appears to be getting away from Newport.
Most of all, Newports confidence has returned. Watchers at Rodney Park last Saturday saw a side that believed it could and would win rather than the side that Westley fielded that had lost before they had even left the dressing room. Manager Flynn is the enforcer of the message (with the help of the experienced Lennie Lawrence in a management support role) that it’s not over until it’s over. It’s a message that is being received well by the Newport players who are embracing it with every game and look set to take that into the last two games and complete what will go down in the clubs history as the great escape.